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Shapiro/Atkins three years in: evaluating free agent signings

How much value have they achieved on the open market?

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays-Workout Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I was planning on running this at the outset of the offseason, but with the Winter Meetings upcoming now is a good as time as any. The new front office headed by Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins has now been in charge for three offseasons, and while that’s far too early for definitive judgments, it is enough to start making some reasonable evaluations. Thus over a series of posts, I want to comprehensively examine what they’ve done over the first three years of their tenure.

In this first post, we’ll look at the free agent signings they’ve made. For these purposes, I’m looking at signings in terms of pure exchanges of value, not the broader context. I’ll circleback to the broader strategy at the end.

  1. 11/13/2015: Marco Estrada, 2 years/$26-million (qualifying offer made)
    In repeating his breakout 2015, Estrada more than earned the whole deal in 2016 alone. He got off to an even more incredible start in 2017, before injuries torpedoed the season. Still, 350 innings at a 4.25 ERA and his playoff success make this a very good deal.
  2. 11/15/2015: J.A. Happ, 3 years/$36-million
    For anyone who watched Happ from 2012-14 and after he was traded for almost nothing not four months earlier, this seemed quite rich. Instead it ended up a home run and bargain, as Happ posted more than 500 innings to a 3.44 ERA (9 fWAR, 11 bWAR) over the deal, and brought back future value.
  3. 12/11/2015: Darwin Barney, 1 year/$1.05-million (arbitration eligible thereafter)
    This ended up a nice little signing as Barney turned in a strong 2016 in a part-time role. 2017 didn’t go nearly as well, but Barney stepping up was a pretty important part of the 2016 ALCS team.
  4. 2/6/2016: Gavin Floyd, 1 year, $1-million
    Turned in a decent half season in relief before a major injury.
  5. 4/2/2016: Franklin Morales, 1 years/$2-million
    A weird signing of a second lefty on the eve of Opening Day, the Jays got burned even though it was a non-guaranteed contact as the Scott Boras client hit the DL within a week.
  6. 11/12/2016: Lourdes Gurriel Jr., 7 years/$22-million
    This was really more of a prospect signing, with the $3-million signing bonus essentially available due to the Vlad-related IFA restrictions in 2016. But it was a major league deal, though it’s the one deal that remains to be determined with $17.4-million and five years (of his prime) remaining.
  7. 11/18/2016: Kendrys Morales, 3 years/$33-million
    The dud deal that really keeps getting worse. At the time, I certainly didn’t see why a third year was necessary, or why they struck so early in a market that was supply heavy in bat-first players. Overall, he’s been marginally productive though rebounded nicely in the middle two-thirds of 2018. Perhaps more significantly than the opportunity cost of the money is what his singing crowded out...
  8. 12/5/2016: Steve Pearce, 2 years/12.5-million
    He ultimately didn’t really impact the Jays, but the question is what could have been. Pearce was productive when healthy in 2017, and was a huge platoon bat once traded to Boston. Had they just been able to DH him, avoiding the adventures in the outfield and possibly keeping him healthier, this might have been a home run signing.
  9. 1/18/2017: Jose Bautista, 1 year/$18.5-million + mutual options
    The reunion with Bautista on a high dollar deal as the Jays tried to keep the band together for one last run ended up a flop on both fronts.
  10. 2/9/2017: Joe Smith, 1 year/$3-million
    Another home run signing as a very modest investment turned into four excellent months of pitching before bringing back a couple prospects.
  11. 2/9/2017: J.P. Howell, 1 year/$3-million
    This one went the opposite direction to the one above. As the saying goes, you win some, you lose some — but really, considering it as a package deal, it was still an easy win.
  12. 9/20/2017: Marco Estrada, 1 year/$13-million
    Technically an extension, but in lieu of free agency. This one didn’t work out so well. On a side note, considering how the market playing out, Estrada probably made a couple extra million signing when he did.
  13. 1/23/2018: Curtis Granderson, 1 year/$5-million
    Granderson lived up his deal, providing solid platoon production as a veteran influence before moving to Milwaukee and helping them down the stretch.
  14. 2/15/2018: Jaime Garcia, 1 year/$10-million
    It is said there is no such thing as a bad one year deal. That truism follows when it comes to the bigger long-term picture. But this was a very bad one year deal, ending up completely dead money as Garcia pitched 75 poor innings.
  15. 2/26/2018: Seunghwan Oh, 1 year/$2-million+vesting option and incentives
    Another home run as the Jays bought low and Oh largely reprised his dominant form of 2016. The kicker here really was getting the cheap option for a second year. Given that, I’m not sure the Jays really got full value in trading him, but that’s neither here nor there

Others/minor league signings

  • Josh Thole, 1 year/$0.8-million
  • Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 1 year/$1.25-million
  • John Axford, 1 year/$1.5-million
  • Tyler Clippard, 1 year/$1.5-million
  • Jake Petricka 1 year/$1.3-million
  • Mike Hauschild

Saltalamacchia, Axford and Clippard were all minor league signings but with the inside track for the major league team and all did make the Opening Day roster. Salty was awful and another write-off, but Axford and Clippard were both solid-to-good relievers who were more than worthy of the investment.

Overall, these free agent signings were for a total of just over $197-million. That includes the full totals for Gurriel and Morales, the only deals still running. With a near replacement 2019-projection, Morales is largely sunk money, but Gurriel will provide future value. So if we strip out the remainder of his deal, it’s a total of $180-million committed to free agents by the front office. For that, the players signed produced about 21 fWAR and 24 bWAR (plus whatever Morales does in 2019).

Of course, with subsequent trades, not all of that has been for the Jays. The Jays ended up paying $158-million in salary on the above deals, receiving 17 fWAR / 19 bWAR in production and a handful of players or prospects (Drury, McKinney, Pannone, Taylor, Espinal, Wall, Spanburger, Orimoloye, Copping). They should get some value from those deals through volume alone, but there doesn’t appear to be any impact level players.

Overall then, the Jays paid between $7.5- and $9-million per win bought on the open market. If you believe the calculations by places like Fangraphs, that’s basically right around the market level over the past couple seasons and so in sum Shapiro/Atkins and company have neither really created nor destroyed value with their open market shopping.

Some of the the symmetry is sort of interesting. They gave out two three-year deals in the low-30-million range early in offseasons. One was a big winner, the other a dud, overall basically a wash. They signed Howell and Smith to equivalent deals on the same date, again one a big winner, one a washout.

Unsurprisingly, the largest volume is of relievers. They’ve signed eight relievers over the three years, all to one-year deals. Two were complete failures (Howell/Morales), two didn’t really move the needle (Floyd/Petricka), two were solid (Axford/Clippard), and two were outstanding (Smith/Oh). Considering the total cost of about $15-million, even just the last two huge successes more than justify the total cost.

One area that has been a disappointment is one-years for would be regulars. Bautista and Garcia were almost $30-million down the drain for sub-replacement level production. Estrada wasn’t that bad in 2018, but also didn’t end up worth the money. The closest thing to a win is the Granderson deal. They need to do better here, especially if this is where they concentrate this winter (with a mind to flipping at the deadline).

Next, we’ll look at the trades since Shapiro/Atkins took over.


The grade for Shapiro/Atkins free agent signings should be

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  • 2%
    (33 votes)
  • 36%
    (527 votes)
  • 41%
    (596 votes)
  • 14%
    (208 votes)
  • 6%
    (89 votes)
1453 votes total Vote Now


Be it resolved: this front office should never sign another Morales

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  • 87%
    All in favour
    (903 votes)
  • 12%
    All opposed
    (126 votes)
1029 votes total Vote Now